If ‘organised loafing’ is the best description of this wonderful sport, a cricket tour is gonzo organised loafing.
I’ve relished them so much I even organised six of the blighters. Now, late in life, I’ve even started enjoying the games more than the high jinks. Something must be going wrong.
Memories to treasure
– In 1985, while I was being berated for drunkenly micturating on a room-mate’s jeans, rendering them unwearable, Dinas Powys legend (in his own mind) Huw Lloyd threw open the hotel room window and started singing: ‘Good morning, good morning, we’ve danced the whole night through.’ As sung by Judy Garland in the 1939 Babes in Arms movie. I looked out of the window and the entire throng on Tenby Esplanade – it was Bank Holiday Monday – stopped in their tracks to witness the whole song sung right the way through. Bravo Lloydy.
– I still dream about the cakes at Brockhampton in Herefordshire.
– What do you do when the hotel bar shuts? Have a pillow fight of course. In Dursley, this went on so long I decided to ambush a mate on the landing. Only it wasn’t a mate I cracked over the head in the dark. It was the hotel owner, who nearly got knocked down the stairs. Rising at noon, I was told the club committee had spent all morning persuading him not to throw us out.
– Two top tales from Dinas Powys tours I did not attend. 1) Brother Geoff stopped a match he wasn’t even playing in – and caused a mini-earthquake – by falling 12 feet out of a tree into the field of play. Game was halted for ten minutes so he could get treatment for his injuries and because it took that long for people to stop laughing. 2) Dinas’s only brush with police came when rozzers were called by an opposition skipper to our hotel because he couldn’t find his wife, who was busy having sex with one of our players. Be warned: you can’t trust Dinas.
– Dinas are bad. How bad? This bad: in sport, it is customary for a side to try to announce itself in style to intimidate the opposition – to send them the message that there are new tigers in town and these tigers have sabre teeth. One unsuspecting village in Herefordshire in 1989 got the full treatment. Oh yes. Our minibus turned into their field and the driver – a headmaster at a local school – bibbed the horn, the cat was spraying its territorial muck. Inside the bus we then heard the screeching, high pitched scream of metal on metal. A searing shrieking sound, as though we’d entered a steel mill. We ducked instinctively wondering if a tree was about to fall on us. Metal on metal – we’d crashed into their pavilion. Damage to pavilion – £0, somehow. Damage to minibus – £800, a lot in those days.
– The greatest team Sussex has ever seen – yes. even more wonderful than the county side featuring Imran Khan and Tony Greig – Lancing Athletic (RIP) braved the infamous Dunkery Beacon hotel in deepest, darkest Zummerzet. Armed with a vuvuzela. This was 1991 and it was just ‘a horn’ back then. In Porlock I rigged it up to a large traffic cone, to amplify the noise. It looked like one of those Swiss mountain horns. The resulting honk shook the village. travelled up the valley from the ground and returned seconds later to shake the village as second time before, probably, causing a mini-tsunami on Steep Holm. Probably knocked the bails off too.
– Luton Nomads, visiting Melton Mowbray (I know, I know – it was the skipper’s home town) in 1990, dished out T-shirts – ‘Team clown’, ‘Team pin-up’ etc. Mine read: ‘Team Moaner’.
– In 1991 Sussex’s greatest team (RIP) lost a T20 to Halfpenny Down, who needed 16 to win off TWO balls. TWO balls. ‘We’m be needin’ a no baaaaall to win,’ square leg ump said to his confrere in broad West Country dairy drawl dripping with , thinking we couldn’t understand him. Skipper Paul Cheston came in and heard the call ‘No ball’, delivering a leg-side freebie that disappeared over my head at deep backward square for six. Suddenly it was ten off two, and the next ball also disappeared over the rustic boundary – the pitch was cut into a cornfield -demolishing a molehill. Needless to say the resulting four off the last delivery of the match was a simple formality. Halfpenny Down scored 16 off two balls to win. Cheston swears it was never a no ball.
– Lunatic Liners have had their lurid larks. In 2000 a player – now a BBC reporter (don’t worry he’s not famous or I’d shop him to the tabloids) – was stripped naked in the high street at Shanklin, Isle of Wight. Probably only funny if you were there (it was after midnight). He took this clear example of bullying quite well, actually.
– On the same island, a hard-drinking teenage female bowler was recruited to play for us. Obviously she had access to the dressing room – and had developed a crush on our George Clooney look-alike. No, not me, but Jimmy, 23. We showered and changed discreetly, under our towels, mindful that there was a lady in our presence – albeit one gustily swigging Foster’s vigourously, as if it was the last one she would ever taste. A rigourously vigourous swigger she was. Jimmy was last to emerge from the shower, and was the focus of our guest’s stare – like a cat eyeing a blue tit, a crocodile sizing up a young buffalo. She had one thing on her mind. Jimmy changed and finally, briefly, unveiled his middle stump and googlies whereupon – I can’t quite remember – she either dropped her can or downed it in one and left. Sated at last by Jimmy’s jewels.
– In 2002 the greatest team in Sussex toured Canterbury. Surrey were at Kent at the time and the two great sides, Surrey and Lancing Athletic (RIP) found themselves in a nightclub. My pal, Chaffs, who channels Stephen Fry at his fruitiest, spotted England pace bowler Jimmy Ormond, and approached.
CHAFFS (puts arm round Jimmy): Not easy bowling down the hill at Hove, is it, Jimmy?
JIMMY ORMOND (gives nasty look): Oh yeah?
CHAFFS (realises error, tries to compensate): Er, um, well, Immy – Imran Khan – yes, Immy used to find it difficult too you know.
Ormond stares madly back and suddenly someone intervenes. One of his team-mates dashes over to join in.
ADAM HOLLIOAKE Listen, pal, FUCK off!
This is why Lancing Athletic are the best Sussex side of all – the only village team to go on tour and get told to fuck off by an England captain – one who is now a cage fighter in Australia.
Which brings us to Headliners’ Hampshire hotspot for the day. No England captains were spotted.
A balmy day in Basingstoke
Who’d have thought Basingstoke would be so bounteous. My landlord told me: “Worked there for a year, it’s awful.”
If there was something in the pavilion about the town’s most notable cricket figure John Arlott then I somehow missed it. He went to school next door and, aged seven, his biographer David Rayvern Allen records, club legend Bert Butler did not:
Which is more than can be said for any of the hillbilly Headliners motley crew of ne’er do wells, misfits rapscallions and deadbeats. National disgraces would be closer to the mark.
Hampshire have played here regularly between 1966 and 2000 and it has hosted names like Gary Sobers and – wow- my all-time favourite Glamorgan player Malcolm Nash who took 9-56 here in 1975. As one of Glamorgan’s 15 season ticket holders that year, I actually remember this.
Last first-class game here was against Durham 2010 when a certain Ben Stokes made 99. The four-day match ended in a draw.
Nice to play at a first-class ground though – Headliners once staged a game at Hove. Basingstoke was a third bite at the giddy high life of outfields that look like they have been manicured with nail clippers, white things that are, I’m told, sightscreens, and teas served by comely wenches with straw between their teeth (a lie).
It’s some sort of recompense for playing too many games at Pontcanna in Cardiff or Waterhall in Brighton. Why shouldn’t we get a taste of champers after supping bitter, brackish water that looks like it’s been wrung out of someone’s swimming trunks? If you get me.
This lot are so classy they’ve even got a bird scarer for their covers. I’m easily impressed but … wow.
Fifth first-class ground this player has (dis)graced- more than I could ever have hoped for when I got fed up of torturing my brother and started playing in the street at the age of six. Cardiff, Eastbourne, Hastings Central (best ground ever, a crime that it was ripped up to make way for a shopping centre) and Ebbw Vale being the others.
Anyway, lots of highlights to enjoy and one of the most enjoyable experiences of a mundane cricketing career. It was absolutely entrancing to see a red kite – yes, a bloody red kite – dipping and diving around one end of the ground, clearly a cricket fan, and admiring its reflection in Bruce Talbot’s bald head.
First-class ground, shame about the cricket.
Fourth game of a tour for mainly middle-aged men meant that it was 35 overs per side.
So we got to bat first. Talbot, the scoundrel, gave me lbw for 37 curtailing my involvement while we were 78-1. Still, my top score on a first class ground and a lot better than the quacks I registered at Cardiff in 1976 – first ball to Robert fucking Crimp – and Hastings in 1995.
We ended up with 164-9 as the Growler, so-called because he growls just before he takes a catch – and Groombridge’s beefiest slab of beef ‘Beefy’ Holden cracked it round a bit. Growler made 41 not out to top the batting stats.
Was there any gas left in the tank? Think about it – a bunch of 40-somethings four days into a tour.
He ran in like a shire horse, cresting the breeze (thanks Mr Arlott if you’re reading this up there, I pinched that from you) to bowl seven fine overs for not very much. Too good to get a snick. Malcolm Nash-like – Malc was also a leftie.
The rest ran in and were nothing like shire horses though we do call the other opening bowler Orson because his surname’s Carter (‘orse ‘n’ cart, geddit?). Well OK, the boy Beefy done good, with 3-35 and it was all over in 25 overs, a seven-wicket defeat.
Colts cracking us round merrily wrapped it up in mercifully short time.
Final word, of course, has to go to the skipper.
As a team of, predominantly, journalists, an interview was required with our leader, the human banter sponge who takes every derogatory comment – and there are plenty of them – with a rueful, patient smile of someone eternally condemned to endure suffering so that the rest of us can live meaningful lives. Man’s a martyr.
Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands, feet and flippers together, shut your gobs and pay attention, you might learn something, to Mr John ‘Barney’ Barnett – the Headliners’ answer to Mr Arlott – a broadcasting bard himself whose way with a carefully turned phrase is the talk of Crawley. Ladies, he’s at @barnacle1977 if you desire more.